Virgin Galactic space planes, which the British billionaire Richard Branson used to start his journey into space in July, have been briefly trained by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) while it conducts an inquiry into a problem that occurred during the 11 July flight.
Federal Aviation Administration
- “Virgin Galactic may not return the SpaceShipTwo vehicle to flight until the (Federal Aviation Administration)FAA approves the final mishap investigation statement or determines the effects linked to the mishap do not harm public safety,” the FAA said in a statement to the Guardian on Thursday.
The decision came shortly after an investigation was initiated into the 11 July incident with Branson’s flight on his own spaceship, which “deviated from its air traffic control allowance” as it was grounding back on American soil, according to the FAA.
The Guardian has contacted Virgin Galactic for comment on this update.
Branson’s flight was enclosed by much fanfare and criticism, with many perceiving it as a symbol of wealth gaps and questioning the duplicate step of the missions.
It came around at the same time that fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos flew into space in his own craft.
The difficulty with Branson’s flight arose when a golden light flashed on the console of the vehicle when it was landing, a sign that the flight was “too shallow and the nozzle of the ship was insufficiently vertical”, a New Yorker report said on Wednesday.
In a statement to the Guardian, Virgin Galactic denied claims made in the report, terming it a host of “misleading characterizations” of the incident.
- “Unity 22 was a secure and successful test flight that adhered to our flight procedures and training protocols,” read the statement. “When the vehicle found high-altitude winds which changed the trajectory, the pilots and systems monitored the trajectory to secure it lived within mission parameters.”
The announcement acknowledged that while the flight ultimately did divert from its assigned path, it was “a controlled and intentional flight path that allotted Unity 22 to happily reach space”.
- In acknowledgment of the FAA’s research, the company pointed out that it followed its expected regulations, such as maintaining its path within the lateral confines, but it did drop below its assigned altitude for one minute and 41 seconds “as an outcome of the trajectory change”.
“At no time did the ship travel above any community centers or cause a hazard to the public. FAA representatives were present in our power room during the flight and in post-flight questions,” the company said in its report, adding that it was working with the FAA over future flights.
The FAA did not say on Virgin Galactic’s acknowledgment and reiterated that the issue was still under investigation.
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